Meet a Health Hero Semifinalist: Todd Irwin
Todd Irwin, president of the Board of Directors and a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight East, is one of our 10 Health Hero Challenge semifinalists.
» You can vote for Todd Irwin here from September 4th through October 2nd.
Name: Todd Irwin
Role: President of the Board of Directors and volunteer pilot, Angel Flight East, an organization that provides free air transportation for people who need to travel long distances for medical treatment.
What motivates you to try and make Philadelphia a healthier place?
I have always been interested in joining a non-profit, with the ultimate goal to give back to my community. I started working on my private pilot license in 2012, and was introduced to Angel Flight East through my 2013 participation in Leadership Philadelphia, a program designed to enhance civic knowledge and awareness. This was a perfect way for me to blend my interest of community involvement with my new love of flying. I joined the Angel Flight East Board of Directors in 2013, and flew my first mission for the organization as a private pilot in 2014. In October 2017, I assumed responsibility as president of the Board of Directors for Angel Flight East, a role I take very seriously.
Angel Flight East’s mission involves developing relationships with private pilots who are willing to donate their time and expense and leveraging this incredible goodwill to help families and patients who need to travel far distances to receive medical care. Philadelphia has so many wonderful facilities — Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Wills Eye Hospital, Shriners Hospital for Children, Cancer Treatment Centers of America — just to name a few. The organization facilitates getting people to these care facilities, and will also arrange for people who live in the Delaware Valley to travel to facilities outside our region if the specialty they need is located in another region of the country.
The travel coordinated through Angel Flight East is completely free to the people we serve. Having personally flown several families myself, the reward for pilots is simply helping others by leveraging a skill that we have and doing something that we love to do, fly. As board president, my responsibility is not just to our board, it is also to our patients, our pilots, the medical care facilities that we service, which is why I am working with our volunteer board on a strategic plan designed to help more families and further our reach. With a metrics-driven approach, we intend to increase the number of families served to over 200 annually.
Describe a health-related turning point in your life.
Although I was involved in many organized sports growing up, soccer was my passion. Throughout high school, I got by with the daily team practices, and did very little in terms of outside conditioning. At the collegiate level, I realized strength and conditioning was important to keep up with the competition. Spending time in the gym, focusing on that aspect of my fitness not only made me feel better about myself, but allowed me to perform at a much higher level. I continue to work on my fitness, incorporating many different styles of workouts, in and out of the gym.
What policy would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
All schools and employers should be required to provide nutrition and fitness education. Public schools have fitness requirements through physical education classes, but the linkage of your health to both nutrition and fitness is rarely presented as a complete package. Improperly fueling your body can negate the effort put in to your fitness regimen. Give kids the knowledge and tools to understand this early on, and reinforce this in their working years through employer programs.
What’s the most important part of your health or wellness regimen?
Motivation, motivation, motivation. Everyone knows it’s easy to start a new program, but really hard to stick with it, no matter whether you are talking about a new exercise program or a new diet. Personally, I find it best to work with a partner or a friend, to have someone to push and drive each other. Also important is making my fitness goals public. That doesn’t mean advertising to the world, but posting my goals for my family to see helps me keep focused on my goals.
If I extend the question to my work with Angel Flight East, one of the most difficult aspects of our mission is making people aware of our service. Not everyone needs our services, but finding the people who can benefit from what we do is challenging. Our resources are so limited, so we have to be efficient and effective with our volunteers’ time. We utilize our relationships with health care providers, social workers/nurse navigators, the local media, and social media to spread the word. Together, with other board members and volunteers, it is a constant focus to find new avenues to communicate our services in an effort to reach every family that is need of our service. We hope no family ever goes without treatment due to distance and its associated costs.
What is your number one piece of health-related advice/encouragement?
Find something that you are interested in, or are passionate about, and look for the fitness-related angle. I have always enjoyed biking, and about 20 years ago, a good friend was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Most MS Society chapters hold an annual fund raising bike ride. In Philadelphia, the City to Shore Bike Tour is held annually in September, and has given me a purpose and motivation to work towards my fitness goal for this ride.
This year, I will ride in my 21st consecutive City to Shore Bike Ride and will have raised over $100,000 for this cause. Most non-profit organizations hold some form of fund raising event that involves a fitness-related activity. Whether your passion is walking, biking, or running, so many events exist that you can participate in. In addition to reaching your fitness goals preparing for such an event, raising funds to support a worthy cause benefits the organization and provides a way to give back to your community.
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